I will not deny that it was only roughly three months ago that I googled my ex. Two of them, actually. I was curious. I’m not sure why, but one of them popped into my head and I figured, while I was at it, why not Google this other one who I was curious about.
I didn’t find much. One of them, with a generic name, seems to have been wiped from the face of this internetted earth (rightfully). The other seems to have moved on to grad school in New York. I don’t know what I was looking for in this Google search but lemme tell you….I got nothing. I ended my search with a sigh and a shrug and continued on with life, nothing having changed.
I’m not obsessing over either of these exes. Or any of the other ones, for that matter. I publicly write about my exes frequently and reminisce over good times. I’ve been accused of not being able to move on and of pining for them. Trust me: it’s exasperating trying to convince the world that having a healthy understanding of your past relationships doesn’t mean that you’re stuck in the past.
I have a handful of friends that are still upset over failed marriages and lost relationships. More often than not, it comes out when we are drinking – the time when all the truths of this universe unfold. It comes out in anger, expressed in feelings of defeat. I’ve been seeing my friends tearing their lives apart over these people. They sit in their unhappiness, cheating themselves out of moving on, letting anger bubble up, allowing themselves to withdraw from life. We make poor decisions for ourselves when we’re angry, and when we feel unworthy and broken. I’ve seen this in my own life plenty of times.
So, why do we give our failed relationships so much power over our lives? Isn’t that exactly what our exes want?
The fallacy of time
I was recently listening to Esther Perel’s podcast. The first episode opens with a couple who have both cheated on each other. The wife feels more hurt about her husband’s betrayal and insists that, with time, everything will be okay.
Except…time doesn’t heal everything. In fact, it heals nothing.
Perel agrees. “Time never exists in its own. It’s what happens in it. You have to give it meaning. You have to shape it.”
The end of a relationship is a loss. It is grief. As with all loss, it may seem easier over time. We move on. We get used to not having a date on national holidays. We become accustomed to not getting texts asking us how our day is going. We adjust to coming home to an empty house, or falling asleep with no one beside us, or eating dinner alone.
This isn’t healing. It’s adjusting – adjusting our happiness, and our sense of what is okay in life, what we will tolerate in life.
I think the most radical thing that we can do with our lives post-breakup is to reclaim our time. To remember what we liked to do before that person, something that had to take the back-burner. Did you write? Did you paint? Did you golf? Did you go on solo-vacations? Did you go to metal concerts or music festivals?
And it’s not just about what we did beforehand. It’s about what we want to do now.
After my breakup with the guy who I was convinced I’d spent the rest of my life with, I re-focused my energy into my career. I dreamed bigger about what I wanted and put a lot of happy energy into networking. I went on three solo vacations in a matter of months. I wrote. A lot.
And, I also allowed myself to have moments where I felt unhappy. Moments where I felt alone, or desperate.
But I recognized that the passing of time doesn’t heal shit. It only makes life seem a bit more bearable.
I’ve been reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. (10/10 recommend.) The book is about how often his career touches on end-of-life care, and it is an exploration lives that end in nursing homes and elder care centers, as well as lives that end young in hospice or in ICUs. At the center of this all is this: a more satisfactory end of life is one that still has meaning.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what gives my life meaning, lately. For me, it is always: my family, my friends, and my romantic relationships. For me, these are the hardest things to lose. At other times in my life, meaning has been found in my work, or my schooling, or travelling. Most often this meaning has been fleeting and temporary. A successful semester brings this meaning to an end. The finale of a large work project finds me on a plateau. A volunteer opportunity becomes stagnant, or a vacation ends.
A romantic relationship that had thrust great meaning and excitement into my life ended more than a month ago now. I’ve spent the last month feeling like so much of my joy and expectation and love had been pulled out from under my feet, and I’ve been flailing as I figure out where my meaning comes from now. I am giving it time, and being thankful for my friends, even though they mostly do not have the right things to say. And I am working to once again find meaning, and to fill my time with it.
Where are you finding meaning today?